The parry is a complex activity that can be described in a number of ways. Barbasetti defined the parry conceptually as an action which is aimed to defeat the opponent’s attack. That has come to be interpreted as a specific family of blade actions – blade contact by the blade in an intentional parrying position. So the first big question is “if I step back and make the attack fall short, is it a parry?”
The traditional view inherited from the French School is that it is not – the doctrinaire dogmatists insist that the blade (and the bell) has to make the parry. That, of course, is rubbish if we look at the bigger scheme of things. Stepping back to make the attack fall short, results in the attack ending in the right of way weapons … the step back has achieved the result of making the attack fail, and the priority shifts to the opponent who immediately takes advantage of it. Today, we have invented the term “taking over the attack” to describe the new offensive action. However, when the attack ends, it is done. Logically there is no attack to take over. We had to invent a term, “taking over the attack,” to avoid using the term “riposte,” the offensive action following a fencer’s parry. We could not admit what Italian fencers from Masaniello Parise to Edoardo Mangiarotti have known, that the parry by distance is a parry to be followed by a riposte. And yet another stovepipe is born, in this case one which makes it more difficult to understand the nature of the parry.
It is critical to understand that the parry, whether by blade or by distance (parate di misura), is part of an integrated system. Mangiarotti defines this as the defensive-offensive system.
To understand this relationship we have to realize that defense by itself does not win bouts. You have to hit the opponent. If I fence you defensively, never attacking, and you fence me the same way, what is the score after the bout and the overtime period … that is correct 0-0. And how is the bout decided … by the luck of the coin toss or random number generation that determines which fencer in the overtime has priority. Yes, defense can save you from being hit, but, if it is not followed by offensive action, the opportunity to advance the score is lost.
The objective of the parry is to hit the opponent. The parry is the preparation of the riposte. When you understand this, you understand why the choice of parry and the choice of riposte in creating the conditions for the hit is critical. The defensive-offensive system allows you to increase the difficulty of the opponent’s decision making and increases movement time by constantly manipulating the geometry of the parry-riposte.
Our decision making must thus include:
… selection of the line in which to initiate the parry – driven by the line of the opponent’s attack.
… selection of the parry – driven by your tactical choice to change or not change the geometry of the of the action.
… selection of the riposte – driven by the parry chosen and your tactics regarding further changes in the geometry.
Note: I am using the term “geometry” to indicate the spatial and vector relationships between lines of offense and defense.
So what do we have to work with in our selection of parries. Quite a lot actually. Regardless of the weapon we can use:
(1) lateral parries – high inside to high outside and reverse, low outside to low inside and reverse
(2) circular parries – high inside returning by circular movement to high inside, high outside, low inside, low outside the same.
(3) change parries – circular parries that transport the opponent’s blade to the opposite line, almost always in the high line, high outside to high inside, high inside to high outside.
(4) semi-circular parries – parries that move from high to low line, and the reverse, with a half-circular movement that sweeps through the center of the torso as it moves to the new line.
(5) diagonal – semi-circular parries that sweep from high inside line to low outside and the reverse and from high outside to low inside and the reverse.
(6) double circular parries – circular parries that add a second circle to catch a disengage or counterdisengage that attempts to deceive the first parry.
(7) flying parries – parries that graze the blade on one side and coupe around the point to hit on the other side, all as one flowing movement.
(8) ceding parries – parries that yield to the pressure of an opponent’s blade, moving it to a new line as it forms a new parry.
Ripostes also offer a range of options. The ground has been prepared by the selection and execution of parry to create the best conditions for scoring. There are several categories:
(a) the simple direct riposte.
(b) the simple indirect riposte.
(c) ceding ripostes in which the riposting blade on contact, pivots and angulates around the opponent’s blade to hit.
(d) angulated ripostes which displace from the direct line to angle around the opponent’s attempt to parry, avoiding contact.
(e) ripostes in opposition.
(f) ripostes taking the blade.
(g) ripostes executed from a tac-au-tac parry – we used to call these beat parries, but then the referees and a rules change decided that a beat cannot be a parry and that a parry cannot be a beat.
So, the bottom line is that:
(first) the parry is an inherently offensive action designed to create the opportunity to hit,
(second) the selection of various types of parries and differing lines creates a tactical advantage,
(third) which can be further exploited by the use of a variety of ripostes,
(fourth) all as part of an integrated defensive-offensive system.
So don’t be predictable – train to create the maximum confusion for your opponent by using both parries by the blade and by distance and the eight different categories of parries, to create the conditions in which a selection can be made from the seven different types of ripostes – to score!